“Theater will die if people who look like me don’t go see it,” firmly maintains Obehi Janice, a Nigerian-American actor/director, singer/dancer, writer/educator who has lived in Dorchester for the past four years while performing regionally. Her work encompasses stage, stand-up, film, video game voice-overs, and university residencies.
Now national theater organizations are taking notice of her talents and communication skills.
This versatile artist characterizes herself in several ways, one of them being “an actress with two first names.” For her stage name she dropped her Nigerian surname and kept her two first names. “My parents gave each of my siblings and me an Edo (tribal) name and an English name. Mine are Obehi [“God’s destiny”] and Janice [“God is gracious”].”
She also bills herself as a “multi-culti” – shorthand for “multicultural person.” Many of her stand-up stints, college presentations, and spoken word/one-woman shows highlight cultural clashes in her own family and in society at large. Her most widely seen piece juxtaposes two foods: “Fufu & Oreos.”
In addition to the honors she has accrued, including Improper Bostonian’s Best Actress of 2014, the 27-year-old recently received a Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship presented by The William & Eva Fox Foundation and Theatre Communications Group. She applied for the Fox Fellowship in conjunction with Boston’s Company One (C1). Last season she was featured in two C1 productions and she will appear in another two shows in C1’s upcoming Season 17.
Her determination to serve nontraditional audiences makes her a perfect ambassador and ensemble member for the progressive, inclusive C1.
Dubbed Boston’s Best Fringe Theatre by Boston magazine, Company One Theatre describes itself as “Boston’s theatre for the people. Founded in 1999, Company One’s mission is to change the face of Boston theatre by uniting the city’s diverse communities through socially provocative performance and the development of civically engaged artists. The award-winning company has been instrumental in bringing younger and more diverse audiences to see and participate in socially and politically relevant theatre.”
The fellowship sponsors Janice to engage the audiences and artists connected to C1 as a way to further cultivate and grow these relationships. Obehi will work closely with students in the theatre’s Stage One program – an arts expansion program in the Boston Public School (BPS) system as well as an apprenticeship program for young artists – through a series of master classes in creating original work through storytelling.
The Fox Fellowship also generously funds study abroad. As a first-generation actor and writer in Boston, Obehi understands the value of connecting with artists and audiences outside the US.
Though she’s proud of being “a native Lowellian,” Obehi Janice has visited Nigeria three times. She explains that the grant will allow her to travel in 2016 to East Africa to observe and train. In Uganda, she will attend the Kampala International Theatre Festival under the guidance of Deborah Asiimwe. In Zimbabwe, she will attend and train at the Zimbabwe Center of the International Theatre Institute under the guidance of Lloyd Nyikadzino.
This winter, though, she will be performing as Dido in “An Octoroon,” C1’s co-production with ArtsEmerson, written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and directed by Summer L. Williams.
In the spring, she will star in Young Jean Lee’s “We’re Gonna Die,” a C1 co-production with American Repertory Theater, directed by Shawn LaCount. Janice has the privilege to be the first person to perform this role other than Young Jean Lee herself.